Durham University on NASA internship researches human adaptation in orbit using virtual reality
(12 September 2005)
Durham University student Adam Gagen is working on an internship with scientists in the Neurosciences Laboratory at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) researching how the human body copes in orbit. The NASA team is using virtual reality to investigate solutions to facilitate better human adaptation to microgravity, the very weak gravity experienced in orbit.
Adam, a Social Sciences student in Philosophy and Psychology at Durham’s St John’s College, is running a virtual reality pilot study to simulate the sensory conflict astronauts experience during microgravity environments. Exposure to virtual reality causes similar sensorimotor disruptions as exposure to microgravity, degrading the performance of the individual and is manifested in reduced postural control, ‘cybersickness’ and increased fatigue. With the goal of assessing the best possible astronaut training techniques, Adam is exploring ways to optimise human adaptation to unique environments and working to understand the cognitive processes involved.
Adam commented: “As prolonged human missions become a more fundamental goal of both NASA and the European Space Agency, understanding the mechanisms and architecture of our own neural network is increasingly important, especially as it impacts on situations that call upon our resources in unique and exceptional ways as with human space flight.”
Adam Gagen, who is from Harrogate, graduated from the French American International High School in San Francisco, and attended Leeds Grammar School and Grosvenor House in England, before starting at Durham University where he enters his final year next month.
Adam landed the internship as part of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) scheme. The NSBRI offers internships to a small number of undergraduate, graduate and medical students who are interested in life sciences. The programme gives students the opportunity to join ongoing projects with scientists at the Johnson Space Center.
Dr Jeffrey Sutton, NSBRI director said: ”The internship programme provides a tremendous opportunity for all involved. The students gain exposure to space biomedical research for exploration, and we are able to inspire the next generation of scientists.”
The NSBRI, funded by NASA, studies the health risks related to long-duration space flight with peer-reviewed research and education projects at more than 70 institutions across the United States. The research programme addresses bone and muscle loss, cardiovascular changes, sleep disturbances, balance and orientation, radiation effects, immunology and infection, neurobehavioral and psychosocial factors, remote medical care and related technology, nutrition, physical fitness, and rehabilitation. Research findings will also impact the understanding and treatment of similar medical conditions experienced on Earth.
For more information go to: www.nsbri.org/research/neuro.html